Skip to main navigation Skip to main content
Please enter a search term

Strong-willed 3-yr-old pushing boundaries

Hi, I’ve got a 12-week-old boy and a 3 1/2-year-old girl. My girl is very strong willed - and I’m struggling with knowing how to deal with her. She’s had a lot of change recently with a new house and new baby who is very needy - and has recently been pushing boundaries so so far. Not only answering back to me but friends of mine too. When I say to stop doing something she does it again and again. Looking for tips and advice with handling kids like this please

Without knowing many of the specifics related to context it is difficult to identify what exactly might be going on with your daughter.  However there are some things to keep in mind in relation to children who are leaving toddlerhood behind. 

Like every age, children around the age of 4 present some ups and downs, not least of which can be a seemingly infinite number of ‘why’ questions every day…one study estimated over 500 per day! 

On a more serious note it is important to remember that every child is different, but there are some things you can expect at this important age. First, this is a time of marked insecurity which can lead to a great deal of whinging, crying and frequent questioning along with the occasional acts of defiance and cries of ‘I hate you’! This is likely compounded by a new baby in the family. 

Your daughter will expect your attention and be jealous of attention given to others…again, very normal behaviours at this age and like other age related behaviours, this too shall pass. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is try to find some one on one time with your daughter. 

Perhaps you can schedule a daily and/or weekly activity together when it is just the two of you. You can then use this to help reinforce the behaviours you desire from her and remind your daughter that you love her as you always have; it’s just that you are a bit busier. 

Another thing you can do is find things for your daughter to do when you cannot give her the attention she is currently craving…grandparents, play groups and other activities can help. In the end, attention is the key…try to give your daughter some quality one on one attention and find other avenues that can feed that current need. And finally please remember, this is normal behaviour and it will pass.

Dr Michael Nagel

Dr Michael Nagel

Associate Professor, School of Education, University of the Sunshine Coast

See more

Other questions about this topic

Is time-out okay for kids?

I’ve always understood that time-out was a reasonable way to deal with behaviour issues. Now I’m seeing some articles suggesting that time-out has had its day. Is time-out OK and if not, what’s the alternative?

Learning to follow directions

I have a 3.5-year-old who won’t listen to anything. We both just end up getting upset. I'm concerned that she will face problems in preschool if she won’t start following directions.

Help! My child is biting other children

I’m so embarrassed but my child care provider called me in to say my two-year-old has been biting other children. I hate to think what the other parents must be thinking. What do I do?

Preparing a toddler for a new baby

My toddler isn’t happy about the arrival of our second child. How do I prepare my child for the birth a new baby?

4-yr-old throwing tantrums

I have a four year old daughter, and the tantrums are worse now than they were in the ‘terrible twos’. She seems to fluctuate from happiness to meltdown so quickly and sometimes it seems that no amount of effort from us helps. Is this normal? I thought she’d be growing out of this by now.

Get Advice

Ask a question